Derrick Lewis grew up in West Haven. He was an all-state lineman for its vaunted football program.
He sees enough similarities between his hometown and next-door Milford to believe the football program at Law High School can achieve great things again.
Lewis was officially confirmed as Law’s high school football coach this week. He comes over after a three-year stint at Bassick of Bridgeport.
As much as Lewis enjoyed his time at Bassick, he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to move closer to home and coach in the SCC, the league he terrorized as a lineman from 1997-2000.
“I’m really, really excited about the opportunity to come home,” said Lewis, 32, who was also an All-American at Southern Connecticut State. “And it is sort of a homecoming. I feel like I’m going to prime time. It is definitely a community that’s similar to West Haven. I see a lot of similarities between the towns and in the toughness in the kids. And what I like about it is that they’re eager to compete, they’re willing to do whatever it takes and sacrifice to be consistent winners.”
Lewis was 4-27 in three seasons at Bassick. Despite his record, the Lions were competitive. Last year’s 3-8 season — which included Bassick’s first football win over Central since the 1990s — was the school’s best football record in more than two decades.
“I had a great bunch of kids at Bassick, they knew I loved them and it was a situation where I did the very best that I could for what I had there,” Lewis said.
“A lot of people there got stuck on what we didn’t have at Bassick, but I never complained about what we didn’t have. I’m used to making it with nothing, I think that was the most important part.”
Lewis is just the third coach at Law since 1983. He follows alumnus Mark Robinson, who was 43-90 in 12 years.
He takes over a program that has had brushes with football success since its start, but hasn’t had a winning season since 2007 and has never been to the state playoffs.
“We had a lot of great applicants,” Law athletic director Mike Hoggatt said. “We had about 10 people come in for the first round and he came in out-shined everyone in interview process.
“He’s an SCC guy, he played at West Haven, and what he did at Bassick really impressed us. We want our football program to be as strong as it can be. He had a plan for us to move in the right direction.”
Since his hiring became official earlier this week, Lewis, who is behavioral specialist for Bridgeport Public schools and an ordained minister at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on the East End of Bridgeport, has spent a majority of his free time getting to know the Law staff and his players and organizing the weight room sessions.
He even got a chance to speak with Milford coaching patriarch Vito DeVito, who was the program’s first football coach and presided over most of its greatest accomplishments between 1961 and 1973.
“It’s been great,” Lewis said. “I’ve met with a lot of alumni who have been telling me about the old days and they’re eager to support the program as much as possible. Mark (Robinson) left the program in great shape. Over the years, I just think they missed out on a couple of athletes here and there. It’s my job to see if we can get more students interested in football.
“I applaud the community. It is really invested in building a strong football program. Mike Hoggatt is one of the best ADs I’ve ever met. He understands the demographics and needs of football. They have great facilities. I think they just need a breath of fresh air and there seems to be buzz in the atmosphere. Hopefully we can restore some pride.”
Connecticut football coaching vacancies (as of March 11)
- Hamden – The interim contract for Todd Dowty expired, opening the position.
- Rocky Hill – Dave Coyne retired.
- Watertown – Mike Verroneau resigned in January.
- Maloney – Pierce Brennan resigned on Feb. 26 to go to Avon Old Farms.
- Newington – Roy Roberts resigned to take the head coaching job at Manchester
- Danbury – Dan Donovan resigned after four seasons.
- Bassick – Derrick Lewis took over at Law
- Weston – Joe Lato hired at Masuk